I have to confess that I enjoyed the Wigtown Book Festival more this year than ever before, even more than last year when my book 'The Belties of Curleywee Farm' was being launched at the children's festival. I was pretty stressed by the whole thing then. It was an odd situation for me too. I was working at the children's marquee selling the books for the official bookseller G C Books - far too many books in this sentence - and then I had to suddenly appear as an author. Illustrator Pauline James and I had never done an event before and we attracted one of the biggest audiences of the children's festival. Despite being somewhat chaotically organised (can you be chaotically organised?) we had a fun time and the kids seemed to as well. I chatted about black and white animals, read the book and Pauline talked about the process of creating the pictures or 'colouring in' as she put it. This process included cycling round the Machars, the area of South West Scotland we live in, and sneaking up on Belted Galloways to try and draw them. As Pauline only wears evening dresses (I'm not making this up) this would have been a bizarre sight for any passer by. I think one of the 'Belties of Curleywee Farm' series should be about an eccentric woman in evening gowns trying to draw them from strange hiding places.
So, last year's festival had it's pressures and that doesn't include the running around, juggling things at home and worrying about my elderly mother who was unwell. This year was great, there was a fantastic selection of authors and illustrators in the children's marquee including Jonathan Meres, Debi Gliori, Cathy Cassidy, Tony de Saulles, Stuart Reid and Damian Dibben and they were all really friendly. Not a single snooty 'I'm an AUTHOR' amongst them. We even had a six foot hairy haggis appear in the tent.
There were relatively few author issues this year. It's sometimes difficult dealing with authors, seeing the side of them when they switch off from performance mode. One chap grumbled about having to finish even though he'd been allowed to overrun by more than ten minutes and another author obviously has an internal stopwatch as she allowed people a limited amount of time while book signing and then switched off, the shutters came down, times up, that's your lot. And from what I've heard there was only one person obviously drunk this year, which is pretty good going. I know it cannot be easy doing the rounds especially for writers who live for the majority of the year in a garret creating their books, waiting for the silence so that they can hear their imaginations as Louisa Young so eloquently put it. Louisa Young was one of my favourites this year along with Tahir Shah.
Wigtown, I understand, is now the second largest literary festival in Scotland. For buzz and friendly welcoming atmosphere it must easily be best. I wandered in to the Edinburgh Book Festival during the summer and quickly wandered out again. I know it's a different beast but it came across as a series of rooms closed off to the casual visitor. Apart from the book shop and a bar there wasn't much you could happen across whereas Wigtown is full of things that you can get involved in even if you haven't got a ticket for an event. Artist in Residence Joanne B Kaar could be found at the top of the building (and loose about the town at times) weaving with the Wigtown Waggers. On the way to her studio you passed through The Gallery, an exhibition space that was constantly changing with views across Wigtown Bay nature reserve as well. Photographer Kim Ayres took pictures of people dressed up as fictional characters and tucked in a little studio on Harbour Road there was a display of the 'Gifted' sculptures, little works of art made of books that have been anonymously donated to different bodies in Edinburgh. And, of course, as Wigtown is Scotland's National Book Town, you could spend all your time just browsing in the fabulous second had bookshops, or if you're Tahir Shah, running your hands along the leather spines.